Hiding to hedge against information overload
Diverging distraction effects due to task-irrelevant information from misleading associations
Many workspaces nowadays overload people with information – often with information that is irrelevant to the task at hand. Such information cannot only be distracting but additionally misleading, and can potentially impair the performance in relevant tasks. Here we set out to investigate how higher order cognition is influenced by such irrelevant or misleading information. Specifically we were interested in disentangling distraction effects due to task-irrelevant information from distraction effects due to misleading associations. To this end, we examined the solution rates for Remote Associates Test (RAT) items as a function of the presence of additional irrelevant or misleading word material, presented alongside the RAT items. Solving these kinds of word riddles is considered higher cognition as it is closely related to problem solving in real world scenarios. Additionally we manipulated the expectation of participants towards the nature of additional information across two experiments. In Experiment 1 participants believed that all additional words were irrelevant. In Experiment 2 they thought some of the information might be useful for their task. Alongside other manipulations we hereby ensured an attentional focus on the additional information in Experiment 2. Results showed, participants performed poorer in solving RAT items when irrelevant or misleading words were presented along with the RAT items compared to no additional presentation. Moreover misleading information was additionally interfering, but only if attentively processed. To avoid such distraction and misdirection, future personal information systems like the Semantic Desktop [1-2] can help by detecting and hiding temporarily irrelevant or misleading information.
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